ARAYAT, Pampanga—In the early 1970s, followers of Dr. Jose Rizal trooped by the thousands to the Rizal monument at Luneta Park in Manila, where the Spanish colonial government executed him on Dec. 30, 1896.
“We mounted long parades. Publicly, we declared him our god,” recalled Edgardo Bacsa, one of the leaders of Señor Ignacio Coronado Enchanted Maria Sinukuan Dr. Jose P. Rizal Followers Foundation Inc. here.
Their founder, Epifania Valdejos Castillejos, believed to be the “babaeng Rizal” (female Rizal), draped herself with a large Philippine flag in the annual parades, said the 61-year-old Bacsa.
“Apo” was how Castillejos was called. Revered for the folk religion she led, visitors in her 1-hectare shrine at the foot of the fabled Mt. Arayat here included former First Lady Imelda Marcos, the late Vice President Salvador Laurel and European diplomats, photographs showed.
But 62 years since the group’s founding, Bacsa said the number of members has dwindled to less than 300.
Bacsa said the declining membership could be due to the death of Castillejos on Dec. 7, 1991, at the age of 85. Members are based in Pangasinan, the Ilocos provinces, Quezon, Palawan, Bicol and the Visayas provinces.
At least 15 people permanently stay at the compound, including Remedios Saballe, who, at 30, found the shrine, served Castillejos and never left. She is now 66.
Of the current batch of followers, Bacsa said 20 percent are youth, between 18 to 31 years old, assuring the group of continuity.
The declining membership does not alarm them because, Bacsa said, their belief is rooted in Rizal.
“Rizalismo,” he said, is “differently distinct in many ways” from other religious beliefs because, based on documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is “anchored on science, knowledge, freedom and public good.”
“We are not after quantity but quality. This is a matter of having little, not having many. We are waiting for the good seeds to sprout,” Bacsa said.
The group’s openness to researchers helped spread knowledge about Rizalismo. It maintains a library where members read the works of Rizal and literature on his life as an intellectual and freedom fighter.
Bacsa said it is important for the public to “return to our heroes, relearn their doctrines and principles to move forward and have peace.” Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon